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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008 Jul;33(6):728-40. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.02.011. Epub 2008 Apr 8.

Gender-specific behavioral and immunological alterations in an animal model of autism induced by prenatal exposure to valproic acid.

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  • 1Molecular Neuropharmacology, Institute of Pharmacology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 12 Smetna Str, 31-343 Kraków, Poland.


Autism is a severe behavioral disorder characterized by pervasive impairments in social interactions, deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication, and stereotyped behaviors, with a four times higher incidence in boys than in girls. The core symptoms are frequently accompanied by a spectrum of neurobehavioral and immunological derangements, including: aberrant sensitivity to sensory stimulation, anxiety, and decreased cellular immune capacity. Recently, a new potential rodent model of autism induced by prenatal exposure to valproic acid (VPA rats) has been proposed. In order to determine if gender has an influence on alterations observed in VPA rats, male and female rats have been evaluated in a battery of behavioral, immunological, and endocrinological tests. A plethora of aberrations has been found in male VPA rats: lower sensitivity to pain, increased repetitive/stereotypic-like activity, higher anxiety, decreased level of social interaction, increased basal level of corticosterone, decreased weight of the thymus, decreased splenocytes proliferative response to concanavaline A, lower IFN-gamma/IL-10 ratio, and increased production of NO by peritoneal macrophages. Female VPA rats exhibited only increased repetitive/stereotypic-like activity and decreased IFN-gamma/IL-10 ratio. Sexual dimorphism characteristics for measured parameters have been observed in both groups of animals, except social interaction in VPA rats. Our results confirm existence of similarities between the observed pattern of aberrations in VPA rats and features of disturbed behavior and immune function in autistic patients, and suggest that they are gender-specific, which is intriguing in light of disproportion in boys to girls ratio in autism.

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